Before Karen Met Rick

By Hass, Nancy | Newsweek, January 23, 2012 | Go to article overview

Before Karen Met Rick


Hass, Nancy, Newsweek


Byline: Nancy Hass

The GOP contender's hard-core pro-life wife once dated an abortion provider. Nancy Hass on their time together.

Karen Santorum, the ultra-pro-life wife and mother of seven home-schooled children, has been the perfect complement to her husband, Rick, as he chases the Republican presidential nomination. On the campaign trail, the candidate often refers to her book, Letters to Gabriel, the story of the devoutly Catholic couple's traumatic late-term 1997 miscarriage (the 20-week-old fetus lived two hours outside the womb). The couple opposes birth control as well as abortion, even in cases of rape.

But Mrs. Santorum, 51, apparently wasn't always committed to the cause. In fact, her live-in partner through most of her 20s was Tom Allen, a Pittsburgh obstetrician and abortion provider 40 years older than she, who remains an outspoken crusader for reproductive rights and liberal ideals. Dr. Allen has known Mrs. Santorum, born Karen Garver, her entire life: he delivered her in 1960.

"Karen was a lovely girl, very intelligent and sweet," says Allen, who at 92 uses a walker but retains a sly smile. A wine aficionado who frequented the Pittsburgh Symphony and was active in the local chapter of the ACLU, he lives with his wife of 16 years, Judi--they started dating in 1989, soon after he and Garver split--in the same large detached row house where he lived with the woman who would become Santorum's wife. He and Garver also lived for several years in another house a few blocks away. "Karen had no problems with what I did for a living," says Allen, who helped start one of the first hospital-sanctioned abortion clinics in Pennsylvania. "We never really discussed it." (The Santorum campaign did not return repeated requests for comment on the relationship.)

The six-year-long May-December affair, which was always out in the open, began in 1982, when Garver was a 22-year-old nursing student at Duquesne University. Allen was then 63. He was well known for delivering babies and helping to start a "therapeutic abortion" clinic at Magee-Womens Hospital in Pittsburgh years before Roe v. Wade. As at most such clinics, sympathetic psychiatrists of the era attested to women's fragile mental health as a way to skirt restrictions on the procedure. Rick Santorum has lampooned the notion that abortion statutes should contain exceptions in cases where women's health is at risk.

Although they had technically known each other since Karen's birth, Allen doesn't remember having contact with her as she was growing up; they reconnected when she called him looking for an apartment to rent near Duquesne. Her parents, Catholic with 11 other children, who lived in the nearby suburbs, were well acquainted with Allen; her father was a pediatrician who got many of his patients through referrals from the obstetrician. They knew he owned the building that housed his large practice and that there was a basement apartment. Allen, divorced for several years at that point with six grown children, had been living on two upper floors.

Garver moved into the basement apartment, but she wasn't there long, says Allen. "That first night, as soon as it got dark, she called to say she was scared and asked if she could come up. I figured it was a come-on, but that was OK." Karen, he says, came upstairs, permanently.

Unusual though the affair may seem now, Allen says it "really wasn't that big a deal, at least to me." It was the '80s, after all, and he'd had a number of young girlfriends before Garver; his wife Judi is 30 years younger than he. "My first marriage didn't do very well because of that behavior," he concedes.

He and Karen lived above the office together for nearly five years, until the house in which Allen now resides was finished after a lengthy renovation (the couple broke up a few months after they moved into the house). Photographs of them together throughout those years show her as a fresh-faced, freckled young woman with wavy hair and a shy grin that grew more confident after Allen paid to have her teeth straightened. …

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